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Will there be a Libertarian effect in the Governor’s race?

Hard to say, but the odds that there would be at least one article about the possibility of a Libertarian effect in the Governor’s race were pretty close to 100%.

[Kathie] Glass, 56, is a Houston civil lawyer and Libertarian candidate for governor who is trying to pick up the frustrated right’s mantel where Debra Medina dropped it off.

While winning would be a long shot for Glass, her appeal to frustrated conservatives could draw enough votes to put a real kink into Perry’s lead over Democrat Bill White.

While Green Party candidate Deb Shafto has put her campaign into a website and a few public appearances, Glass and her husband, Tom, are criss-crossing the state in a motor home to espouse her views via a variety of talk radio programs. She also is buying radio ads to promote her appearances at Tea Party and activist group gatherings.

“I have an uphill battle, but in a three-way race, 34 percent can take this thing,” Glass told a San Antonio-based Texans United for Reform and Freedom meeting recently.

The odds against winning are huge, but Medina jumped from almost nonexistent in the polls to about 20 percent in the March GOP primary after she won a spot in a statewide debate. Medina’s campaign ultimately stumbled with a gaffe.

The real potential for Glass is that her message of stark government downsizing will steal votes from Perry.

In the 1990 governor’s race, where many voters were disgusted with the Republican candidates, Libertarian Jeff Daiell won almost 4 percent of the ballots. Daiell received enough votes to have given Republican Clayton Williams a victory over Democrat Ann Richards.

Let’s be clear about one thing: The difference between Debra Medina’s performance in the primary and Kathie Glass’ potential performance in November comes down to one thing, and that’s straight party voting. I surveyed straight ticket voting patterns back in 2006 when some polls showed Chris Bell barely breaking 10%. At that time, I concluded that a bit less than half of all votes cast in non-Presidential year races were straight party votes, meaning that the worst any Democratic candidate could possibly do was about 20%. I’ve checked some numbers for the 2006 election, and they clearly show just how hard it would be for anyone outside of the two-party system to make headway. Here are the straight ticket voting totals for some of Texas’ more populous counties:

County Straight Governor Pct ==================================== Harris 283,528 589,348 48.1 Dallas 232,136 406,325 57.1 Tarrant 160,352 326,337 49.1 Bexar 110,606 273,780 40.4 Travis 83,788 226,346 37.0 Collin 65,329 138,159 47.3 Denton 51,377 108,513 47.3 Fort Bend 48,816 98,667 49.5 El Paso 37,762 90,764 41.6 Williamson 31,681 84,085 37.7 Hidalgo 25,079 47,827 52.4 Nueces 23,892 67,623 35.3 Lubbock 22,113 53,564 41.3 Jefferson 21,858 46,775 46.7 Brazoria 20,584 58,441 35.2 Montgomery 16,051 31,510 50.9 Midland 11,538 24,769 46.6 Webb 8,002 18,391 43.5 Rockwall 7,070 15,625 45.2 Total 1,261,562 2,706,849 46.6

“Straight” is the sum of the Republican and Democratic straight ticket votes for each county. “Governor” is the total number of votes cast for all candidates, including write-ins, for the Governor’s race. As was the case in 2002, nearly half of all votes cast were straight party R or D votes. To get to 34% of the total in these counties, a Libertarian candidate would have needed to get more than 900,000 of the 1.44 million remaining votes, or about 64% of the non-straight vote total. What do you suppose are the chances of that happening? Even to match Medina’s 20%, she’d need 38% of the remainders. And remember, that would have been in a year with that bizarre four-way Governor’s race, which must have had a negative effect on normal straight-voting patterns. I fully expect straight ticket trends to be up this year compared to 2006. If you want to suggest that Kathie Glass could somehow repeat Debra Medina’s performance, you need to tell me how the math works for her.

This Politico story produces a different misleading statistic to bolster its claims about Glass’ potential effect on the race:

Perry received only 39 percent of the vote in his reelection in 2006, and Libertarians consistently draw between 3 and 5 percent of the vote. In an anti-establishment year, a compelling candidate like Glass “could easily get up to 7 [percent],” [Phil] Martin [who works for the Texas Democratic Trust] said.

I hate to disagree with my good friend Phil, but it’s not in the Governor’s race where Libertarian candidates have drawn that 3 to 5 percent, it’s in the other statewide races, usually the ones that are the most lightly contested. While the 1990 Governor’s race is interesting, and does demonstrate what can happen when you’ve got a candidate that is disliked by a non-trivial number of members of that candidate’s party, since then no Libertarian gubernatorial candidate has done anywhere near that well:

Year Lib % ============ 1994 0.64 1998 0.55 2002 1.46 2006 0.60

You’d have to have a mighty tight race for those numbers to make a difference. The last time a statewide candidate won with less than 50% was in 1998, when Carole Keeton Rylander captured the Comptroller’s office with 49.54% to Paul Hobby’s 48.99%; Libertarian Alex Monchak collected 1.45%. My observation is that Libertarian candidates fare especially poorly in the highest-profile races, when the Republican and Democratic candidates have sufficient resources to run real campaigns and are well known to the voters. If I had a lot more time and the statistical chops, I’d build a mathematical model to try to predict Libertarian performance in a given race. My guess for this race is that the over/under for Glass is 2%, and I feel that’s being generous. But we’ll see.

Now, even 2% could be a game changer, especially if Glass succeeds at taking more votes from Rick Perry than from Bill White. And hey, I could be wrong, and Glass could get the four percent that Daiell got in 1990. But as I’ve said before in the context of articles about how Libertarian candidates might have an effect on this race or that, let’s try to maintain some perspective. The hype is almost always bigger than the actual numbers turn out to be.

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